What a year! The story of social enterprise in Wales in 2020

A terrible year would have been so much worse for many people if it had not been for the wonderful people working in social enterprises across Wales, writes CEO Derek Walker.

See this page in: Cymraeg

It has been so impressive to see how social enterprises have adapted in response to Covid-19 – to keep people in work and to provide crucial community support and vital services. We highlighted some fantastic examples in our #GoodNewsCymru campaign earlier in the year.

Great stories

There are far too many stories to tell them all here. One great example is Ebbw Vale social enterprise, ELITE Clothing Solutions, that has been producing over 1,000 protective garments a month for the Welsh NHS. Other stories include new social enterprise RareQoL, which only registered as a company in June 2020. The business works to improve the quality of life for people with rare diseases. They have already supported thousands of people, providing additional advice to those who have been shielding and want practical solutions about staying safe during this pandemic.

The story of every social enterprise is different. Many developed new products and services, others were able to move their business online. The high number of start-ups this year is a sign of hope. Some social businesses have fared less well of course, but the overall picture has been one of a sector that is resilient and relevant.

Supporting each other

In addition to help from the UK Government, including the crucial furlough scheme, we have been fortunate there has been additional financial support from Welsh Government and the WCVA, where social enterprises were always included in the funding provided to businesses and the third sector, unlike in other parts of the country.

Wales has always recognised the value in dedicated business support for social enterprises, which has been a key factor in the sector’s significant growth over the last few years. Having this service in place meant that social enterprises knew where to go for advice when the pandemic hit. Online guidance, webinar events and one-to-one business support has been provided virtually, and this is on-going. The advice is tailored to the particular needs of social enterprises, which has given social enterprises the very best chance of surviving. The advice is provided by Social Business Wales as well as from bodies such as DTA Wales, Social Firms Wales, Coalfields Regeneration Trust, UnLtd and the Wales Co-operative Centre.

As we cautiously emerged from the first wave of COVID-19, we launched our ten-year vision and action plan for the sector in July. “Transforming Wales Through Social Enterprise” was co-produced by the sector, for the sector. The document positions us not as ‘business as usual’ but as a dynamic, enterprising sector that can really help the country to ‘build back better.’

The plan provides a clear sense of direction and is already helping build momentum for further growth. Since the plan’s launch we have seen a wide range of new initiatives, from programmes to promote social enterprise in business schools to work with local authorities about using local food supply chains. It augurs well for the future.

The pandemic has of course changed the social enterprise sector in Wales. It is timely that we are currently undertaking our biennial sector mapping research. In the Spring this analysis will provide us with an accurate picture of the impact of the downturn on the sector and tell us what support the sector needs as it recovers, rebuilds, and grows.

This year it has been a pleasure to work closely with colleagues at Social Enterprise Scotland, Social Enterprise North Ireland, and Social Enterprise UK to make the case for our brilliant sector. The Social Enterprise Futures event was a real highlight.

Building back better

Next year the work of social enterprises will be more important than ever. There will be so much to do – to create jobs, to provide goods and services, to make positive change happen. We must also do better to represent and include the diverse communities of this country. But, working together, we can achieve our goals.

Nadolig llawen and best wishes for 2021.

Portrait of Derek Walker

Derek Walker

Chief Executive

"It has been so impressive to see how social enterprises have adapted in response to Covid-19 – to keep people in work and to provide crucial community support and vital services."